By William Harms
Photo by Chris Strong

Sociologist Kristen Schilt explores how cultural assumptions about gender and sexuality can perpetuate inequality. Studying populations such as transgender men in the workplace and graduate students, she uses ethnographic and survey research to unravel the ways that gender, sexuality, and race create persistent disparities.

How do you feel about receiving the Quantrell?

I’m extremely excited about it. I am very passionate about undergraduate education. It’s shocking to win the Quantrell after I won the Graduate Teaching and Mentoring Award last year, and I am just thrilled about it.

What is your approach to teaching?

I learned how to teach at UCLA, where we led a lot of discussion groups. It was a crash course in teaching. We develop skills in keeping students engaged. For my classes, I lecture for about 20 minutes, and then I have the students do something together. I give them some issue to work out in a little group and then come back to the rest of the class. I found that this gives students more confidence to talk in a larger group because they can test out ideas with each other first.

In almost all of my classes, I have an interview component where the students have to conduct an interview with someone, transcribe it, analyze it, and write a paper, like a case study. I want students to get firsthand experience collecting sociological data.

What is special about teaching at the University of Chicago?

What really stands out for me is how much the students want to be in the classroom. The students like to learn beyond the classroom. I taught a Gender Studies class in the fall of this year, and some students contacted me afterwards saying they wanted to do more. So we read three more books, and they came over to my house and we discussed them. It’s rewarding.

I find teaching to be something that allows me to be better at my research. Teaching makes me a better writer, a better scholar. We talk about ideas I am working on in the classroom.

Do you have any sources of inspiration when it comes to teaching?

I had really good teachers myself. In the first sociology class I took, I decided I would become a sociologist. The teacher, who was a graduate student, had us do exercises in class, and we talked about really serious issues, and I had never experienced that before. We talked about affirmative action. We talked about gender politics. We talked about things I encountered in my real life. I want to reproduce that experience for my students.

Do you have any pointers to inspire future professors?

I think you should listen to your students. I’m getting ready for a new class this fall with a visiting artist, Chase Joynt. We’re going to talk about the politics of narrative construction in documentaries and in sociological research. To start designing this course, I contacted several of my students and asked them what they’d like out of such a course, what sort of time structure they benefit from most, etc., and they sent back some really great ideas. Don’t be afraid to ask how you are doing and what you might do differently.

Originally published on June 3, 2013.